Deanna McNair landed on disability 15 years ago after a fellow motorist slammed into her vehicle from behind on a Youngmann Expressway ramp during a Buffalo snowstorm. She lost her job with Autism Services, weathered five surgeries on her back and one on her neck, and put on weight, in part because of one of her medications.
McNair, 35, of North Tonawanda, decided this spring to embrace a new push toward better health. She sought help from a dietitian and started going on walks. She started to lay the groundwork to return to college. And she entered the Independent Health and Buffalo Bills Health & Wellness Challenge.
Now she’ll be going to the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game Oct. 25 at Wembley Stadium in London – free, as grand prize winner of the challenge.
“I’m still in awe. I can’t believe it happened,” she said this week.
McNair was one of 6,650 people who signed up for the latest challenge, nearly triple the number who took part in last fall’s inaugural community-wide health and wellness initiative. Participants boosted odds of winning prizes by reaching daily milestones of at least 20 minutes of physical activity, five servings of fruits and vegetables, and eight glasses of water.
Independent Health officials said participants collectively logged more 19,645 hours of physical activity, ate 287,330 servings of healthy foods, and downed 477,600 glasses of water.
Q. How did your exercise habits change during the challenge?
There’s a lot of times that I’ll tell myself I’ll go for a walk or something and it just doesn’t happen. But with the challenge, I made myself go out for the walk. On days when I had physical therapy – two times a week – I counted that for my 20 minutes of physical activity. I walked up and down my street, Robert Drive.
Q. How did your eating habits change?
To make sure I got the five fruits and vegetables every day, I made myself a smoothie and that had all five servings in it, including kale, avocado and frozen berries. That made it easy to get my daily check mark for the challenge. On top of that, I’d add blueberries to my cereal in the morning and I’d snack on carrots and hummus.
Q. Did you lose any weight?
During the six weeks, I lost 6 pounds.
Q. Have you continued to do some of the things since the challenge ended?
I’ve kept the three main goals.
Q. Have you ever been to Europe?
Q. Who’s your favorite Buffalo Bill?
Current player, probably Fred Jackson. All time, Jim Kelly.
Q. Who’s going to the game with you?
Either my mother (Ellen DeLong) or brother (Jason McNair). Most likely my mother. She’s mostly the reason why I’m a Bills fan. When my brother and I were young, she would not let us watch TV so we could do other things, like exercise. But she wanted to watch the Bills games, so that’s what we did on Sundays. That was the one bit of TV we could watch during the week.
McNair said she plans to attend Niagara County Community College in the fall – and compete in the third health and wellness challenge during football season.
“It’s great to know the Health & Wellness Challenge is gaining momentum throughout our community and has inspired so many people to become more accountable when it comes to their own health and well-being,” Independent Health President and CEO Dr. Michael W. Cropp said in a news release. “Through our partnership with the Bills, we’ve been able to provide all Western New Yorkers with access to a health and wellness program that makes it easy, fun and rewarding to adopt healthy habits and achieve a healthier lifestyle. As a result, we’re not only improving our own personal health, but also the health of our entire region.”